Instead of flying down for our annual August vacation in Hilton Head, Josh and I decided to take a short road trip and drive down, making a few food-related stops along the way. I was inspired after reading Two for the Road by Jane and Michael Stern, who wrote about their various adventures in exploring the country’s best roadfood experiences. I loved the idea of just packing up, getting in the car, and driving off to taste the local cuisine at hole in the wall kind of places all over the U.S. I used their website, Roadfood.com, in finding good stops along the way on our own road trip down south.
We hit the road on a Thursday morning, waiting until just after rush hour to get started. We decided to forgo a proper breakfast and picked up some of our favorite bagels to eat in the car instead. Our first Roadfood stop was about five hours away so we had quite a distance to travel before we could have lunch. We hit a little bit of traffic outside of Allentown, PA, so we were a little behind schedule by the time we got to our first destination in Winchester, VA, the Snow White Grill.
The Snow White Grill is a small burger joint that features sliders, one of our favorite eats. We’ve been big fans of the sliders at White Manna in Hackensack, NJ, although the last few times we’ve gone there, the burgers were unseasoned and dried out. The Snow White Grill had a similar old timey feel, with seats at a long counter and a small menu. It’s in a quaint part of town, down a pedestrian mall with lots of restaurants and shops. It’s really a small place though so it might be easy to miss.
Josh and I both ordered red birch beer to drink, which is similar to root beer, but less sweet and not as medicinal-tasting, in my opinion. Josh and I both got sliders and shared some fries and tater tots on the side. We were surprised when the sliders came out of a warming tray instead of being cooked fresh on the grill. I was disappointed that we couldn’t watch their slider cooking method, but fortunately, the burgers still tasted fresh and hot. The meat was well seasoned and the onions were soft and sweet, though not super caramelized.
Josh had his sliders with cheese, but because they were added after the burger had already been cooked and put together, the cheese wasn’t melted on. The residual heat softened it up though, and Josh didn’t have any complaints. The fries were the shoestring variety, which I prefer. They seemed to be the frozen kind though, as were the tater tots, but both were fried well – hot and crispy, so we enjoyed them.
I only got one slider so that I could also try the chili dog. We had recently tried the chili half smokes at Ben’s Chili Bowl in DC (more on that trip later), so I was in a chili dog mood. The chili was the ground meat variety, not too thick nor too thin, and fairly standard in terms of seasoning. The hot dog was also pretty standard, and overall it was not bad but definitely not as good as Ben’s.
Overall, we really enjoyed the sliders at the Snow White Grill. They were flavorful and well prepared, not overly greasy, and I wonder if they would have been even better if we had gotten them fresh off the grill. I could pass on the chili dog the next time, but the fries and tots were tasty. We were off to a good start on our roadfood trip.
Our second stop was a snack break just under two hours later, at Wright’s Dairy Rite in Staunton, VA. It’s a drive-in restaurant (although you can also sit inside if desired), which I was excited about as I had never experienced that before.
We pulled into one of the drive in spots and took a quick look at the menu, which is fairly big but features basic grill and fry items. Since this was supposed to be our “snack”, we decided to each order a milk shake and to split one of their famous Superburgers. We placed our order through the intercom, and it was brought to us shortly by the car hop and placed on a tray next to the menu.
Josh got a vanilla milkshake while I chose strawberry. The shakes were thick and creamy, though not too thick so that we could still suck it up through the straw. The vanilla tasted like melted high quality vanilla ice cream, and was pretty delicious. The strawberry was even better in my opinion, with real bits of strawberry blended into the shake.
The Superburger was supposedly created a few years before the Big Mac. It features two beef patties, American cheese, shredded lettuce, and special sauce on a triple decker bun. It was definitely similar to a Big Mac, but tasted fresher. The meat was beefier, though we found the special sauce (similar to thousand island dressing) a bit too sweet. We liked the novelty of it but would probably get a regular burger next time, if we ever go back.
Overall, we loved the milkshakes at Wright’s Dairy Rite. I would definitely go back for another if we’re in the area, and maybe try some of their ice cream. The Superburger was a notch above standard fast food burgers, but nothing extraordinary. Still, we thought that it’s a great place to stop by for a quick snack, and having your food delivered to your window by a car hop is pretty neat.
After leaving Staunton, we headed towards our destination for the night, my brother’s home near Charlotte, NC. We planned to stop in Greensboro, NC for a barbecue dinner at Stamey’s, which I also read about on Roadfood.com. Unfortunately, we hit massive amounts of traffic en route and wound up arriving well after all the barbecue joints in the area had closed. Luckily my brother had saved us some marinated flank steak so we still ended up having a tasty late dinner.
The next morning we hit the road again and headed to Charleston, SC. Even though it wasn’t really on the way to Hilton Head, I really wanted to have lunch at the Hominy Grill. The restaurant is listed on Roadfood.com, but I’ve wanted to eat there for many years now, ever since I read a profile about it in The New York Times. I was looking forward to having my first lowcountry meal of the trip, and it didn’t disappoint.
We arrived just in time for a late lunch, so the restaurant wasn’t too crowded. They brought us some boiled peanuts to start, which were easy to crack open and fun to eat.
To start off our meal, we shared the fried green tomatoes and okra and shrimp beignets. The fried green tomatoes were perfectly breaded discs, crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. The tomatoes were just slightly tart, and they paired well with the creamy ranch dressing on the side.
The shrimp and okra beignets were loosely bound fritters that fell apart delicately when I cut into them. Though a bit messy to eat, they were delicious, with lots shrimp chunks inside, and just a hint of the oozy texture of the okra. They were served with salsa and cilantro-lime sour cream, providing a southwestern twist to the dish.
For our entrees, we split the big nasty sandwich and the shrimp and grits. The big nasty features a fried chicken breast topped with cheddar cheese that is sandwiched between a biscuit and smothered with sausage gravy. It looks and sounds like a total gutbomb, but it actually wasn’t overly heavy. While I wouldn’t call it a light dish either, the fried chicken was moist, the biscuit was fluffy, and the sausage gravy was creamy but not too salty or rich. Splitting the portion was spot on, leaving us plenty of room to enjoy our other dish.
The shrimp and grits featured plump shrimp topped with sauteed mushrooms, scallions, and bacon over a bed of cheese grits. There was a lemon wedge on the side that we squeezed over the top, and added a healthy dose of hot sauce as well. It was a great combination of salty, sweet, tangy, and spicy, a big plate of comfort food at its best. My only quibble was that the dish was only served warm, not piping hot, and the grits weren’t as creamy as I prefer.
Overall, the Hominy Grill was one of my favorite meals all year. I was worried that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations, since I had been eager to try this restaurant for years, but the food was well executed and really tasty. The menu features lots of southern/lowcountry classics, and there were so many things that I wanted to try. And even though this is a highly acclaimed restaurant, all of the dishes were under $20, with appetizers and sandwiches all under $10. I would definitely go back again, and highly recommend it to anyone visiting Charleston.
We arrived at our final destination, Hilton Head Island, in the early evening, just in time for dinner. So while our first Roadfood trip was pretty short, and we weren’t able to make it to all of the places on our list due to traffic, we had a lot of fun and got to try a lot of good food. Roadfood isn’t about finding the fanciest or best restaurants. It’s about eating locally, seeking out gems that represent the cuisine of the region. All the places that we visited served solid, down to earth food, and for cheap. It’s the best of all the worlds, and I look forward to our next Roadfood adventure.
Snow White Grill
159 North Loudoun St.
Wright’s Dairy Rite
346 Greenville Ave.
207 Rutledge Ave.